One of the most noticeable differences between working for someone else and starting your own company is the personal definition of time. As I look back on my many years building someone else’s dream, it’s very clear how much time was wasted during the work day. In this post, I want to share my revelations from my own experience in the hopes that you will find some appreciation or recognition of this transformation in your own definition of time.
Time for an employee. Working for someone, it always seemed as if my time was dictated for me. It was hard to really grasp control of it. There were two major factors that devoured my time each day. The first, and the greatest thief of my time, was my leadership. Meeting after meeting, we spent so much time and energy talking about the work that needed to get done. My managers mostly held meetings to keep themselves updated, not to provide direction. For example, they would gather everyone in a meeting room every week, providing me the opportunity to listen to a lot of people talk about what they are going to do for the week. Since our tasks didn’t overlap any, this new information didn’t have any value to me. It was just for the manager to keep up with what was going on in the company. You would always hear people mumbling “what a waste of time” as we left the conference room. But this was part of the ritual time wasting activities that occur daily in established businesses.
The second force that targeted my available time for work was myself. When I became well entrenched in my roles and responsibilities, I didn’t always feel pressured to get everything done as quickly as possible. I realize time is money but when I was building someone else’s dream, and they were the biggest user of my time, I couldn’t really understand the value of time (at least not by their definition). They spend my time like it was unlimited. I would spend hours and hours every month listening to other managers talk about their projects. Their projects weren’t my responsibility and the requirement to attend a full day of these updates provided no value to me. With my leadership so eagerly burning time, I began to wonder if they really understood the impact this has on their employee’s definition of time. You see, with such time wasting activities, real value added activities would take longer than necessary. The average time to perform services offered by the company kept growing. The danger with this is that employees begin to accept that things will take longer, so there’s no rush to get things done. Remember, time is money. We always wasted both.
Time for a startup entrepreneur. Starting up my company, time is defined by two factors: me and my customers. When you’re in startup mode, you have considerably more actions to accomplish than time to complete them. The idea that time is money is what I live by. It’s not anything like it is when working for someone else. The longer I take to complete the actions to get my business off the ground, the longer it might take for cash to begin flowing in. The impact of time has a more immediate and noticeable impact on me. The faster I contact potential customers, the faster I can sell my service. When they ask questions, I answer them right away. All of my actions are now driven by my new definition of time, meaning that I must move as quickly as I can to bring in money. The other definition of time that an entrepreneur must abide by is the customer, who is always right. My potential customers don’t feel the same sense of urgency as I do and it drives me crazy. I’m, at times, driven to push a little harder than I should. Sometimes, my customers are nice enough to tell me to slow down a bit and yet others feel threatened or bullied by the constant barrage of communications and simply shut down. To my customers, I’m new to the industry and have to learn their ways. While I may bring something new that they haven’t seen before, I must be respectful and honor their ways of doing business. When you’re just starting out, time can be the biggest hang up and a huge source of stress. But if you have a solid product/service and you know your customer likes it, it becomes an opportunity to develop patience. Yeah, I know, nothing easy about that.
In bigger companies, time isn’t such a priority as actions are completed through the collective actions of many employees. It’s easy to feel that when you’re working with someone else. You’re in a meeting and the boss says, “let’s get this done in the next week or two.” With big companies that’s tolerable, but startup mode seems to apply significant time pressure. Startup entrepreneurs measure time in dollars. Once the dollars are gone, so is time. Actually, you can see this intense pressure in bigger companies when they begin to burn their backlog or fail to meet sales goals for a few quarters. It often forces irrational behavior, such as signing contracts with financially distressed customers, further plunging the decline of performance due to lack of payment from the customer.
My suggestion in dealing with this time pressure is to understand your customer’s definition of time. You do this in your planning phase; that is, when you put your business plan together. Your chart showing cash flow should provide a reasonable timeframe that has been validated through interactions with potential customers. If it takes them 8 months to approve a contract with you, then you must reflect that in your plans. To think you can do that any sooner is risky. You’ll have enough stress starting out so there’s no need to intentionally add more.
These are the ramblings of Todd during his walk into entrepreneurship. Hopefully, you can relate to this. If you want to share your experiences with us, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.